CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.

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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.


It was the oldest trick in the book, but in her experience only the best tricks survived to become old tricks.
—Adam Fawer, Improbable (2005)

It was the oldest trick in the book, but we were acutely short on tricks at the moment.
—Jay Vick, Poisoned Medicine (2002)

I know, it's the oldest trick in the book, but it must work for some people or, 
I assume, it wouldn't be in the book at all.
—Barbara Pachter, The Jerk with the Cell Phone (2004)

[I was] thinking about how this had to be the oldest trick in the book, and wondering if there really was a book.
—Kelli Jae Baeli, Armchair Detective (2005)

It was the oldest trick in the book, but it had worked flawlessly.
—Clive Barker, Coldheart Canyon (2002)

I fell for the oldest trick in the book, and I wrote the damned book.
—Michael Silverhawk, Drifters: The Final Testament (2004)

[E]ven the oldest trick in the world still has new life in it if you give it some thought.
—Anthony Owen, "A Review of 'Cyclops' by Bob Farmer" (2000)

Sometimes in the movies, when the bad guy is holding a gun on the good guy, the good guy says, "It won't work, Scarfelli.  My men are right behind you with their guns drawn."  And the bad guy says, "You can't fool me, Murdoch, that's the oldest trick in the book."  Well, exactly what book are these guys talking about?  Have you ever seen a book with a bunch of tricks in it?  Magic tricks, maybe, but I don't think the thing with the guns would be in there, do you?  A prostitute might have a book of tricks, but once again, probably no mention of the two guys with the guns.  And anyway, even if there really were a book with a lot of tricks in it, how would you know which trick was the oldest?  They were all printed at the same time.  You'd have to say, "You can't fool me, Murdoch, that's the trick that appears earliest in the book."  But that's not good movie dialogue, is it?
—George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


December 16, 2013 (permalink)

"Don't for a moment believe that no one will find out.  That's the oldest trick in the book."
Angus Buchan, Come of Age (2011)

November 20, 2013 (permalink)

"If you want to find out if someone is indiscreet you tell him under a vow of secrecy something that isn't true.  If you then hear the story from another source you know that that person broke his vow of secrecy." —Alec Waugh, The Mule on the Minaret (2011)

October 21, 2013 (permalink)

Asking for help finding a kitten.  "That's the oldest trick in the book."
Marlene Perez, Dead Is Not an Option (2011)

September 18, 2013 (permalink)

"Throw underlings to the wolves while the top dogs hide behind the ramparts."
Paul W. Rea, Mounting Evidence (2011)

August 24, 2013 (permalink)

"Oldest trick in the book, buddy.  The old double-fake face smear."
Sarah Mayberry, All They Need (2011)

July 13, 2013 (permalink)

Show the money.

"It's the oldest trick in the book but it still works.  If you want to offer $40 for a $50 item, flashing a couple of twenties might persuade the owner to see things your way."
—Stephen Pollan & Mark Levine, The Die Broke Complete Book of Money (2012)


Photo by Krug6.

January 5, 2013 (permalink)

Ending a scene "with a jolt—the ubiquitous cat jump (a feline leaps out of the darkness with a screech). This is the oldest trick in the book." —John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of The 1980s (2007)

The illustration is from Appleton's magazine, 1907.  The caption reads: "With a savage whining scream The Death hurtled through the air." 



September 17, 2012 (permalink)

Dressing Up an Animal Mascot

"Granted, sticking clothes on an animal mascot may not be the oldest trick in the book, but it sure seems that way."
Kurt Shulenberger

September 8, 2012 (permalink)

"Nothingness seems to possess an effortlessness," William Keckler notes, "But it's probably a trick."

Yes, it's the oldest trick in the book!


Photo by Josh Bartok.

March 28, 2012 (permalink)

"It's the oldest trick in the book, right?  You wait for them to make a mistake."
Steve Hamilton, Misery Bay (2011)



July 21, 2011 (permalink)

"It's the oldest trick in the book—you know, the ricochet flirt.  The more they ignore you, the more they like you."
Kath & Kim, Episode 2.7



June 13, 2010 (permalink)

Pretending to Have Been Robbed

"It's the oldest trick in the book.  They strip themselves, leave their clothes concealed somewhere, then come into town pretending to have been robbed, in the hope of finding some muttonhead like you to take pity on them and give money or clothes they can sell." —Karen Maitland, Company of Liars (2009)

February 15, 2010 (permalink)

Diverting Attention from Bad News to Good

The oldest trick in the book is to divert attention from bad news to whatever good news you can find. —John Tracy, How to Read a Financial Report (2009)

January 14, 2010 (permalink)

Disguising the Identity of an Author

The oldest trick in the book: disguising the identity of an author in order to give heft to substandard work. —Adam Langer, Ellington Boulevard (2009)


Photo by Juska Wendland.

December 26, 2007 (permalink)

“Your Shoelace is Untied”

This classic distraction, apparently as old as shoelaces themselves, is cited in Wikipedia as one of the oldest tricks in the book (2006).

December 23, 2007 (permalink)

Wool Over the Eyes

Technology is a trickster, and it has been so since the first culture hero taught the human tribe how to spin wool before he pulled it over our eyes.  The trickster shows how intelligence fares in an unpredictable and chaotic world; he beckons us through the open doors of innovation and traps us in the prison of unintended consequences.
—Erik Davis, Techgnosis (1998)


December 20, 2007 (permalink)

Water Bucket

One of the oldest tricks in the book: the water bucket is a surprise your noisy pooch won’t forget.
—Matthew Van Kyrk, Guide to Training Your Own Dog (1996)


December 15, 2007 (permalink)

Verbal Inventiveness

—Jean-Benoit Nadeau, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong (2003)

December 11, 2007 (permalink)

Use of Tools

“Use tools.  In this case, human tools.”
    Di hit her forehead with her palm.  “Oh hell!  The oldest trick in the book, and I forgot it!  My God, that’s Crowley’s old trick—and the Kali cult’s, and a dozen others’!”
—Mercedes Lackey, Burning Water (1992)


December 7, 2007 (permalink)

Up the Sleeve

While I was fiddling with my woolly hat, giving, though I say so myself, a very cunning simulation of clumsiness and muddle, I simply slipped the salt cellar down my sleeve.  . . . It’s the oldest trick in the world, in fact . . . but nevertheless takes a great deal of skill and deftness.
—Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987)




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